Last week’s column pointed out that, despite its ultra-liberal impulses, Maryland has yet to elect a woman governor. Twenty-six other states, including unenlightened Alabama, Arizona, Utah, South Carolina and Louisiana, have done so, and the nation may elect a woman president long before Maryland elects a woman governor.
Maryland Republicans should take note. In order to win a statewide race in Maryland the GOP needs a pair of lightning strikes. First, the Democrats need to screw up and, second, the Republicans need a legitimate “crossover” candidate who can attract dissident Democratic voters.
Next year’s governor’s race could well see a Democratic train wreck. Anthony Brown wants to be Maryland’s first black governor, Doug Gansler wants to be Maryland’s first governor elected from Montgomery County and Heather Mizeur wants to be Maryland’s first lesbian governor. And none of them is from Baltimore.
In its wake, the Democratic primary is bound to leave hard feelings and disappointed followers. But how can the GOP exploit such a possibility? How about running a woman reform candidate from Baltimore who has a compelling life story? Looks good on paper; does one exist?
Yes, she’s Anne Arundel’s new reform county executive, Laura Neuman, whose predecessor went to prison for misconduct in office.
Laura Neuman was born poor in east Baltimore to a troubled household. She survived the city’s 1968 race riots and walked to school with a nickel in one hand and a quarter in the other, hoping to surrender only the nickel to the neighborhood hoodlums.
Here’s the rest of her story:
“My first job was helping my older brother with his paper route. I eventually took over the route and I still remember a man giving me a fifty cent coin, my first real money.”
Next she worked as a lifeguard, a waitress and a cashier. At 17 she dropped out of high school, and then left home.
“I moved out the day I turned 18, staying on the floor of a friend’s house for a couple of months. I was always the kid taken in by friends, from Pikesville to Edgewood. I was like a nomad trying to find a safe place to land. Finally I rented an apartment in Baltimore with a co-worker. I was working at Chi-Chi’s.”
When the state raised the drinking age to 21, Neuman lost her Chi-Chi’s waitress job because she was too young to serve liquor.
“The night I lost my job I came home crying. In my sleep I remember hearing a shuffling sound and muffled noises, but assumed I was dreaming. I was awakened with a pillow over my face and a gun touching my right temple. I was raped; the details of the crime are still vivid.”
Neither the police nor her family believed her. Later, at age 23, she roomed with a successful businesswoman who inspired her to apply herself. Responding to a want ad, she landed a customer service job answering phones at T. Rowe Price for $7 an hour, no benefits.
Thanks to her knack for business, she moved up at Price, while working other jobs, got her GED and bought her first new car. After a romantic disappointment she moved to Annapolis, where a friend advised her to go into high tech.
“I applied to hundreds of companies. In 1996 I secured my first technology position in sales with Digex. It was modest but it was a start.”
Encouraged to apply to Loyola’s Executive MBA program despite no college degree, she was admitted and graduated. Meanwhile, she moved up to an Internet company where, as head of sales, she helped put together a billion-dollar IPO.
Another tech company offered her a $450,000 salary that Neuman rejected because the offer included no ownership. Instead she went with a struggling startup company, Matrics, which offered her equity.
“I decided to bet on myself. I cashed in my savings and my 401(k) so I could survive until I raised enough money to get paid. I built the company, hiring smart people, building a product and negotiating deals.”
Meanwhile, she attended Stanford Business School, commuting coast-to-coast. Then, thanks to her financial positioning, Matrics sold for $230 million, cash, making Neuman financially secure for life.
“After Matrics, I went on a personal mission. I wanted my rape case investigated. I called anyone and everyone related to the Baltimore Police Department. Finally, Bernie Holthaus took my case. After 19 years my rape case was solved in three days.”
The investigation revealed that the defendant was guilty of multiple unsolved rapes. Neuman’s case became a 48 Hours TV episode and she started a foundation for rape victims.
Married with two young kids, Neuman next was asked to become Howard County’s economic development chief. Then, when Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold went to jail, Neuman quietly but furiously lobbied to fill the vacancy.
“I called each councilman and asked for a meeting. My entire effort was focused on them getting to know me and me getting to know them. I laid low with the press.”
It worked. And now Neuman wants to continue by running for a full term next year. True, it’s a safer option than running for governor. But history is littered with failed politicians whom time passed by as they “waited their turn.”
Laura Neuman’s life story is one of courageous risk taking and betting on herself. Perhaps she should do so one more time.
Blair Lee is chairman of the board of Lee Development Group in Silver Spring and a regular commentator for WBAL radio. His column appears Fridays in the Business Gazette. His past columns are available at www.gazette.net/blairlee. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.